There are actually two different types of unwanted email and you need to respond differently to each.
If the unwanted emails are from a legitimate vendor you recognize, then you should use the unsubscribe link to get off the list. Probably you signed up for the emails yourself and now, a few months and fifty unread messages later, you realize that was a mistake. I get regular emails from a number of retailers where I’ve bought things and other groups where I’ve signed up for newsletters or notices about special offers. You still need to be careful because there are spammers who make their messages look like they’re from legitimate groups. Consider any message carefully before clicking on any link within it. But in general you’re okay clicking an unsubscribe link from those kinds of emails.
You shouldn’t even need to enter your email address if the system is set up properly; the email unsubscribe link should know who you are. That doesn’t always happen, however, and you may have to enter the email address yourself.
If it does ask you for an email address but doesn’t recognize it or it says you’re off and continues to send you email, then you should go to the site of the vendor, look up their “Contact” link (it’s usually buried at the bottom of the page) and find a customer service email. Explain that you’ve tried to get off their email list and were unable to, then gently remind them that the CANSPAM act REQUIRES them to honor unsubscribe requests, and if you continue to receive unwanted emails you’ll have to report them as spammers. Legitimate vendors DO NOT want to be reported as spammers. That should get their attention and some action.
The second group of unwanted email (and usually the larger group, unfortunately) is spam. You should NEVER, NEVER, EVER click on ANY link in those (even what looks like an unsubscribe link). NEVER open an attachment to an email if you don’t know what it is. At best it does nothing but confirm that yours is a valid email address that can be sold as part of email spam lists (yes, it is a big business!) At worst, it can expose your computer to some very nasty malware.
I repeat: NEVER respond to spam in any way. Don’t reply to it and don’t click any links in the message.
Spam is much harder to eradicate than unwanted newsletters, but there are some things you can do. Most email programs have a way to mark an email as spam and you should do that with any unwanted email that isn’t from a legitimate vendor. Eventually your ISP or webmail provider should start to block those emails or divert them to a spam folder.
Most providers also have a “spam@”, “abuse@” or other similar email addresses. If you’re having a problem with a particular spammer, you should try to find the relevant email address for your email provider and forward the message to that address.
And as a hard line of defense against unwanted email and its sometimes dangerous payload, you should ALWAYS have virus protection on your computer if you’re on a PC, whether desktop or laptop. There’s no excuse not to, since there are a number of good and effective free antivirus programs. I’m not endorsing any of them, but here’s a link to a site that is constantly testing antivirus software. Use it to evaluate your options: http://chart.av-comparatives.org/chart2.php Here is PC Mag’s 2014 Antivirus recommendations.
I’ve used a couple of free antivirus programs that I’m very happy with – Malwarebytes (malwarebytes.org) and Avast (avast.com/).
Your mileage may vary, of course; I’m not endorsing anything; and any other legal disclaimers needed are hereby invoked.
Karen McCullough is a web designer by profession, and the author of a dozen published novels and novellas in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres as well. She has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy, and has also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the mystery, fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. She has three children, four grandchildren and lives in Greensboro, NC, with her husband of many years. Her most recent release is the ebook version of A Gift for Murder, originally published in hardcover by Five Star/Cengage and mass market paperback by Harlequin Worldwide Mysteries.